Stephen Caswell © 2001
Blest Be The Ties That Bind
In 1765 John Fawcett was called to pastor a very small congregation at Wainsgate, England. He labored there diligently for 7 years, but his salary was so meager that he and his wife could scarcely obtain the necessities of life. Though the people were poor, they compensated for this lack by their faithfulness and warm fellowship. Then Dr. Fawcett received a call from a much larger church in London, and after lengthy consideration decided to accept the invitation. As his few possessions were being placed in a wagon for moving, many of his parishioners came to say good-bye. Once again they pleaded with him to reconsider.
Touched by this great outpouring of love, he and his wife began to weep. Finally Mrs. Fawcett exclaimed, O John, I just can’t bear this. They need us so badly here. God has spoken to my heart, too! he said. Tell them to unload the wagon! We cannot break these wonderful ties of fellowship. This inspired Fawcett to write a hymn. Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love! The fellowship of kindred mind is like to that above.
Recently, we have looked at God's purpose for the Church. So far we have seen Evangelism, Discipleship and Ministry. Today we will look at Fellowship. One of the main strengths of the early Church was fellowship. Today many people mistake friendship for fellowship. Fellowship involves much more. Fellowship koinwnia means to have in common. Acts 2:44 sums it up well. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common. Fellowship is translated into English with words such as communion, share, participate, distribute and partnership. I want to draw out the main emphasis of fellowship demonstrated by the Early Church. We will see three things that marked the fellowship of these N.T. saints. They Believe God's Word, They Belong To God's Family, and Behave As God's Children.
Firstly They Believe God's Word
a. The Gospel
Acts 2:41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
Firstly, Christian fellowship is centered on Christ. The early Church all shared the same conversion experience. The three thousand gladly received the Gospel message. This is important because there is only way to be saved and that's through Jesus Christ. Christian fellowship requires a new relationship with God through Him. 1 Corinthians 1:9 Says: God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul expressed the same thing to the Philippian Church. Philippians 1:3, 5 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now. The Philippians believed the Gospel and then shared it with others. They had fellowship in the Gospel from the very first day that they believed. That's what fellowship is. To have in common the same Savior and the same Gospel. True Christian fellowship must begin with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only those who have received Christ can share fellowship with other believers. Fellowship means that we all believe and proclaim the Gospel.
b. Apostolic Doctrine
Acts 2:42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
The Gospel is only one part of God's Word. Even though it is a very important part there is much more teaching than this. The early disciples continued in the apostles doctrine. This included teaching about the Godhead, baptism, communion, prophecy, Satan, judgment and many other subjects. It is important that believers know the right doctrine. We need to study our Bibles. God revealed these things to unite us in the faith, not bring division. Ephesians 4:3-6 Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Here Paul lists seven things that Christ's disciples have in common. True disciples believe all this.
There can be no compromise on these doctrines. Christian fellowship must be based on belief in God's Word. Unity must be founded upon truth. Whilst Jesus prayed that we might be one He placed this condition on it. Jesus prayed that we might be one as He and the Father are one. The Father and Son are in complete agreement on the truth. In fact the right doctrine is so important that Jude tells us to defend it. Jude 3 Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. Christian fellowship means that we all believe and defend the doctrines of the Christian faith.
Christian fellowship can only begin when someone believes the Gospel of Christ. Have you received the Gospel of Christ? Are you sharing it with others? Are you witnessing for the Lord? Do you believe the doctrines of the Christian faith revealed in God's Word? Are you studying them regularly? Are you defending the faith once and for all delivered to the saints? Remember true Christian fellowship must be based upon faith in Christ and His Word.
Secondly They Belong To God's Family
a. Unity Acts 2:44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common.
Secondly, Christian fellowship is possible because we belong to God. One of the best descriptions for the Church is a family. We become part of God's family and the Father has only one family. Ephesians 3:14-15: For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named. Because believers are God's children we belong to Him and each another. This sense of belonging should motivate us to meet together. Families should be united in heart and purpose.
The early disciples continually met together. They enjoyed meeting together with their brothers and sisters. This was because they had so much in common. They all shared a new and exciting life in Jesus Christ. There is a three way fellowship between believers and God. 1 John 1:3 That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. The Gospel brings us into an intimate relationship with each member of the Godhead. We belong to God and amazingly He belongs to us. 2 Corinthians 13:14 expresses this well. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. The word communion koinwnia is the same word as fellowship in the Greek language. Real Christian fellowship is only possible because God indwells us. He imparts His life and love in us. God unites us together with one another through fellowship.
No Partition Wall For Whitefield
The year of 1730, a notable one for American Christianity, witnessed the arrival of 26 year old George Whitefield, already famous for his evangelical preaching in England. Whitefield, a Church of England priest, welcomed as co-laborers Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Lutherans, Congregationalists, Dutch Reformed, and anyone else who preached individual conversion. As he crossed the Atlantic, he wrote to a clergyman friend in England: The partition wall has for some time been broken down out of my heart, and I can truly say whoever loves the Lord Jesus, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
b. Charity Acts 2:44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common.
One of the hallmarks in a strong family is love. The parents love each other and their children. The children love each other and their parents. Love binds a family together with the strongest possible cords. God is love and He has filled our hearts with love through the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that all men would know His disciples by their love for one another. The apostle John has much to say about fellowship in the Church in his epistles. One of the tests of true Christian fellowship is love.
1 John 2:9-11 He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. We simply can't have Christian fellowship without love. Hatred causes division and immediately ends all Christian fellowship. God's love binds us together and motivates us to serve one another. I will deal with service more in my third point on Christian behavior.
Having Internal Life
Dr. Walter Wilson was visiting in a home and the members of the family were asked to quote Bible verses. One little girl quoted John 3:16 as follows: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish but have INTERNAL LIFE. Needless to say, he did not correct her, for it is internal life, as well as everlasting life. God's internal life and love should fill the heart of every believer.
Christian fellowship is possible because we all belong to one family. Do you enjoy Christian fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ? You should! If strife and division are preventing this it isn't God's fault!! He gives us His life and His love so that we can enjoy Christian fellowship. Is bitterness, hatred or unforgiveness hindering your fellowship?
Thirdly They Behave As God's Children
Thirdly, Christian fellowship is possible because we are serving the same Lord. This means that we should all live differently now. We should behave like God's children. Because God saved us and filled our hearts with love our natural response should be to save others. These early disciples were strong in this area. They worked together for the Lord. They all had a common purpose. In five short verses we find the words all and every used many times. They all worked together to minister to one another and the lost. They did this through sharing,
a. Sharing Your Possessions
Acts 2:44-45; 4:32, 36-37 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles which is translated Son of Encouragement, a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Why did these believers give away their possessions and money? Because they loved the Lord and each other. When they saw needs in their fellowship they were only too happy to lend a helping hand. In Acts 2: Luke tells us how they shared their possessions. In Acts 4: Luke records why they did it. They believed that their possessions belonged to God, not themselves. They were only stewards of these things for a time. We can spend our money on things that will rust and decay or use it for God's kingdom and store up treasure in heaven.
We do well to learn this same lesson today. God wants us to have compassion for our brothers and sisters in need. After all we belong to the same family. God wants us to share our possessions to meet the needs of people in the Church. Hebrews 13:16 says: But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. The words to share in verse 16 come from the Greek word fellowship. To have fellowship is to share the blessings God has given to us.
Do What You Can
“We cannot all be heroes, And thrill a hemisphere,
With some great daring venture, Some deed that mocks at fear;
But we can fill a lifetime, With kindly acts and true;
There’s always noble service, For noble hearts to do.
“We cannot all be preachers, And sway with voice and pen,
As strong winds sway the forest, The mind and hearts of men;
But we can be evangels, To souls within our reach;
There’s always Love’s own gospel, For loving hearts to preach.
“We cannot all be martyrs, And win a deathless name
By some Divine baptism, Some ministry of flame;
But we can live for truth’s sake, Can do for Christ and dare;
There’s always faithful witness, For faithful hearts to bear.”
b. Showing Hospitality
Acts 2:46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.
A runaway success. That’s how organizers view Operation Dial-A-Friend in Clackamas County, Oregon. And it’s the type of success story that warms the heart. Dial A Friend started as a daily telephone check on the elderly. Volunteers agreed to phone designated shut-ins to check on their condition and to cheer them up. The volunteers immediately started to go the second mile. Not only did they routinely phone daily, but the calls soon led to visitation, shopping trips, and the growth of real friendships. Real fellowship motivates us to do this.
The disciples in the early Church used their homes for ministry. They welcomed people into their homes to share fellowship with them. When we dedicate our homes to the Lord it is amazing the different ways that He can use them to minister to others.
1. Sharing A Meal
They did this by having people over for a meal. They shared their food with others. This was practical. On of the best ways to get to know people and build friendships is over a meal. You have time to talk and get to know them. Romans 12:13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Some folk in the Church here do this well! Yet, more of us could!
2. Sharing God's Word
The early Church met together in homes because they had no buildings like we do today. It was in these house Churches that they studied God's Word together. Acts 5:42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. Colossians 4:15 Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house. Today many folk use their homes for Bible studies. Others have one or two younger believers over and disciple them in their homes. Some Christians invite non Christians over for a Bible study. Others share a Christianity explained course or the Jesus Video with unsaved neighbors. There is great potential if we will dedicate our homes to God's service.
3. Sharing In Prayer
When Peter was imprisoned the Church gathered together to pray for him. They met together in a home to do this. Acts 12:11-12 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people. So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. A Christian home can be a wonderful place to meet for prayer. What a wonderful sight it must be for God to see a few believers praying together in a home. God honored the prayers of the early Church as they met together in their homes. This is another example of practical Christian fellowship.
4. Sharing Lodging
Acts 9:43 So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner. Hebrews 13:2 says: Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. The Early Church also provided lodging for the apostles and itinerant ministers and evangelists. Usually God's servants have limited finances and require this type of Christian hospitality. This is another way that we can use our homes for ministry. Those who use their homes this way usually receive a greater blessing than they give.
John 5-6 Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles.
c. Sanctifying Your Life
Christian fellowship requires appropriate behavior. God wants us to live in purity. This means avoiding sin. When we become God's children we receive a new nature, a nature that reveals itself in holiness. Many passages in the New Testament command us to be holy. God is holy and he expects His children to be holy too. We can't have Christian fellowship and sin at the same time. You can't mix the two anymore than you can mix oil and water. John talks about this in 1 John 1:5-7: This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
Believers that walk in darkness lose their fellowship with God and their brethren. Sin ruins our fellowship with God and our brethren. Light and darkness can't mix. They are not the same. We can't have both light and darkness in common. One will extinguish the other. Paul gives a similar warning in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15: Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? Paul asks the question what fellowship has light with darkness. The obvious answer is none. In fact Ephesians 5:11 says: And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. Believers cannot have fellowship with God and walk in the darkness. Therefore let us live pure lives. Let us walk in the light.
Why Enoch Never Returned
A little child gave a most exquisite explanation of walking with God. She went home from Sunday School, and her mother said, Tell me what you learned at Sunday School. The lesson had been on Enoch. And she said: Don’t you know, Mother, one day they went for an extra long walk, and they walked on and on, until God said to Enoch, You are a long way from home; you had better just come in and stay with Me. And he went. Maintaining fellowship with God means that we go for long walks with Him. If you want to find Him, God walks in the light. It is in the light that we will find fellowship with God.
Christian fellowship is only possible when we behave like God's children. God's children live for Christ. This means that they share the blessings that God has poured out on them. Do you use your money to meet the needs of folk round you? Is you home available to minister to others? Do you use it for hospitality? When did you last invite someone over for a meal? When was the last time you shared God's Word with someone over a coffee? Would you be willing to have a prayer and Bible study in your home or to use it to lodge a visiting minister? God also commands us to walk in the light. Are you doing this? Or have you lost your fellowship with God and your brethren because of sin?
Fellowship is demonstrated by the things that we have in common. These include Believing, God's Word, Belonging to God's Family and Behaving as God's Children. In Philippians we can see these things working progressively together.
In chapter 1 the Philippians entered the fellowship of the Gospel after they received Christ.
In chapter 2 they enjoyed the fellowship of the Spirit as they served Christ.
In Chapter 3 they experienced the fellowship of His sufferings as they lived for Christ.
In chapter 4 they engaged in the fellowship of giving as they supported Christ's servant.
This is what fellowship is. Christian fellowship is to share in common all that we are and have in Christ. Can you honestly say that you have all things in common with your brethren? Is your Christian fellowship centered on Jesus Christ? Is it grounded on God's Word? Do you enjoy Christian fellowship because you belong to God's family? Are you behaving like a child of God? Are you sharing the blessings God has given You?
2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.